Narcissism defense mechanism

Why Narcissists Act the Way They Do

Narcissists can be charming, charismatic, seductive, exciting, and engaging. They can also act entitled, exploitative, arrogant, aggressive, cold, competitive, selfish, obnoxious, cruel, and vindictive. You can fall in love with their charming side and be destroyed by their dark side. It can be baffling, but it all makes sense when you understand what drives them. That awareness protects you from their games, lies, and manipulation.

Narcissists have an impaired, undeveloped self. They think and function differently from other people, because of the way their brain is wired, whether due to nature or nurture.

The severity of narcissism varies. Some people have more symptoms with greater intensity, while other narcissists have fewer, milder symptoms. The following discussion thus may not apply to all narcissists to the same degree.

Narcissistic Vulnerability

Despite having seemingly strong personalities, narcissists are actually very vulnerable. Psychotherapists consider them to be “fragile.” They suffer from profound alienation, emptiness, powerlessness, and lack of meaning. Due to their extreme vulnerability, they crave power and vigilantly must control their environment, people around them, and their feelings. Displays of vulnerable feelings, such as fear, shame, or sadness are intolerable signs of weakness both in themselves and others. Their defense system, discussed below, protects them, but hurts other people. When they feel most insecure, they’re more malicious and the impact of their actions is irrelevant.

Narcissistic Shame

Underneath their façade is toxic shame, which may be unconscious. Shame makes narcissists feel insecure and inadequate―vulnerable feelings that they must deny to themselves and others. This is one reason that they can’t take criticism, responsibility, dissent, or negative feedback even when meant to be constructive. Instead, they demand unconditional, positive regard from others.


To compensate for feeling inferior, they maintain an attitude of superiority. They’re often arrogant, critical, and disdainful of other people, including entire groups they consider inferior, such as immigrants, a racial minority, a lower economic class, or people of less education. Like bullies, they put down others to raise themselves up.


Their hidden shame accounts for their braggadocio and self-aggrandizement. They’re trying to convince themselves and others that they excel, that they’re uniquely special and the best, smartest, richest, most attractive, and most talented. This is also why narcissists gravitate toward celebrities and high-status people, schools, organizations, and other institutions. Being with the best convinces them they’re better than others, while internally, they’re not so sure.


Narcissists feel entitled to get what they want from others regardless of their behavior. Their sense of entitlement masks their inner shame and insecurity. They convince themselves that they’re superior and it follows that they deserve special treatment. For example, their time is more valuable than others, and they shouldn’t have to wait in line like the masses. There is no limit on what they might expect from others. Interpersonal relationships are a one-way street, because other people are considered inferior and not separate from them (see below). They don’t recognize their behavior as hypocritical, because they feel superior and special. Rules for other people don’t apply to them.

Lack of Empathy

Narcissists’ ability to respond emotionally and express appropriate care and concern is significantly impaired. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, narcissists lack empathy. They’re “unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.” (APA, 2013) Research shows that they have structural abnormalities in brain regions associated with emotional empathy. (See “How to Tell if a Narcissist Loves You.”)

They may claim they love you, but you must determine whether you feel loved by the way they treat you. Real love requires empathy, compassion, and deep knowledge of the one we care for. We show active concern for that person’s life and growth. We try to understand their experience and world view though it may differ from ours. If you haven’t experienced such genuine love or it was mixed with abuse, then you may not appreciate real love nor expect to be treated any better.

Without empathy, narcissists can be selfish, hurtful, and cold when it doesn’t serve them to be charming or cooperative. To them relationships are transactional. Rather than respond to feelings, they’re interested in getting their needs met―sometimes, even if it means exploiting others, cheating, lying, or breaking the law. Although they may feel excitement and passion in the early stages of a relationship, this is not love, but lust. They’re known for their game-playing. Sacrificing for a loved one isn’t in their playbook. Their lack of empathy also inures them to the pain that they cause others, while their cognitive, emotional intelligence gives them an edge in manipulating and exploiting others to get their needs met.


Narcissists lack a positive, emotional connection to themselves, making it difficult for them to emotionally connect with others. Their undeveloped self and deficient inner resources require them to be dependent on others for validation. Rather than confidence, they actually fear that they’re undesirable. They can only admire themselves as reflected in the eyes of others. Hence, despite their boasting and self-flattery, they crave attention and constant admiration. Because their sense of self is determined by what others think of them, they try to control what others think to feel better about themselves. They use relationships for self-enhancement and for their “narcissistic supply.” However, due to their inner emptiness, they’re never satisfied. Whatever you do for them is never enough to fill their emptiness. Like vampires who are dead inside, narcissists exploit and drain those around them.

Lack of Boundaries

Mythological Narcissus fell in love with his own image, as reflected in a pool of water. At first, he didn’t realize that it was himself. This metaphorically describes narcissists. Narcissists’ inner emptiness, shame, and undeveloped self make them uncertain of their boundaries. They don’t experience other people as separate individuals, but as two-dimensional, extensions of themselves, without feelings, since narcissists cannot empathize. Other people only exist to meet their needs. This explains why narcissists are selfish and oblivious to their impact on others, even when they’re cruel.

Narcissistic Defenses

It’s the defense mechanisms used by narcissists to protect their vulnerability that make relationships with narcissists so difficult. Common defenses they use are arrogance and contempt, denial, projection, aggression, and envy.

Arrogance and contempt

These defenses inflate a narcissist’s ego with an air of superiority to shield against unconscious feelings of inadequacy. It also shifts shame by projecting inferiority onto others.


Denial distorts reality so that a narcissist can live in an inflated bubble of their own fantasy world to protect their fragile ego. They distort, rationalize, twist facts, and delude themselves to avoid anything that may cause a chink in their armor, which is so thick, that to some narcissists, no amount of evidence or argument can get through.

Projection and blame

This defense enables unacceptable feelings, thoughts, or qualities to be disowned and mentally or verbally attributed to someone else. Blame shifts responsibility, so the narcissist is blameless. This defense serves the same function as denial. Projection is an unconscious process, whereby a narcissist doesn’t have to experience anything negative in him or herself, but sees it as external. Those traits are projected onto someone else or a group of people instead. You become the one who is selfish, weak, unlovable, or worthless. Projection is very crazy-making and damaging to the self-esteem of people close to a narcissist, especially children.


Aggression is used to create safety by pushing people away. Narcissists see the world as hostile and threatening, and they move against people aggressively, both in word and behavior. This can lead to narcissistic abuse. Vindictive narcissists retaliate in order to reverse feelings of humiliation and restore their pride by defeating their offender.


Narcissists must be the best. They can’t take pleasure in someone else’s success. If someone else has what they want, it makes them feel inferior. Life is a zero-sum game. Competitive narcissists are not only envious of people who have what they want; they may react vengefully to bring them down, especially if they feel threatened. Narcissists are often envious and competitive with their children.

Understanding who you’re dealing with is very helpful, but finding out what you can do is more important. See my other blogs on narcissism and confronting abuse. Try the exercises and strategies in Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist, which can give you clarity and be helpful in getting your needs met and evaluating whether to stay in the relationship. Email me if you’d like to join my mailing list and receive a “Checklist of Narcissistic Behaviors.

©Darlene Lancer 2019


Share with friends

Narcissistic defences | Psychology Wiki

in: Defence mechanisms, Freudian psychology, Psychodynamics,

and 2 more

View source

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Personality: Self concept · Personality testing · Theories · Mind-body problem

"Narcissistic defences have been defined as those processes whereby the idealized aspects of the self are preserved and the limitations of the self and [of] others denied".[1]

'The "narcissistic defense" can theoretically occur at any stage of self-development...and involves an over-valuation of the self-structure'. [2] Originally however such 'narcissistic defense mechanisms develop as the earliest defense mechanisms': they include 'denial, distortion, and delusional projection'.[3]

Splitting is a defense mechanism that dominates the function of all narcissists. They see people and situations in black and white terms, either all bad or all good with no shades of grey. Projection is often used in conjunction with splitting.[4]


  • 1 Freudians
    • 1.1 Fenichel
    • 1.2 Lacan
  • 2 Kleinians
    • 2.1 Rosenfeld
  • 3 Object relations theory
    • 3.1 Positive defenses
  • 4 21st century
    • 4.1 Defence sequences
    • 4.2 A narcissistic set
  • 5 Literary parallels
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 Further reading


'Precise indications of specifically narcissistic defenses are not to be found in the works of Freud'. [5] One of Freud's essays, On Narcissism, stressed how 'even great criminals and humorists, as they are represented in literature, compel our interest by the narcissistic consistency with which they manage to keep away from their ego anything that would diminish it';[6] but did not specify the mechanisms that enabled them to do so.

Another of Freud's essays, "Mourning and Melancholia" looked at narcissistic regression as an answer to object loss: 'the narcissistic identification with the object then becomes a substitute for the erotic cathexis, the result of which is that in spite of the conflict with the loved person the love-relation need not be given up'.[7]


By the time of Otto Fenichel's great summary of the first psychoanalytic half-century, it was clear that of projection that 'this primitive mechanism of defence can be used extensively only if the ego's function of reality testing is severely damaged by a narcissistic regression'. [8] Similarly, introjection, and 'identification, performed by means of introjection, is the most primitive form of relationship to objects',[9] also reappearing in regression.

Fenichel also looked at 'eccentrics who have more or less succeeded in regaining the security of primary narcissism and who feel "Nothing can happen to me"...their childhood spared them the everyday conflicts with reality that force other children to give up the archaic stages of repudiating displeasure and to turn toward reality'.[10]


Jacques Lacan, following that line of Freud's thought which would 'see the ego as the product of...its genesis in identifications',[11] considered the ego itself as a narcissistic defence: driven by 'the "narcissistic passion"...the ego neglects, scotomizes, misconstrues in the sensations that make it react to reality'.[12]


Melanie Klein, emphasising projective identification in narcissism, considered that 'the infant is and becomes what he believes he does and has done to his objects - and how he defends against this awareness (manic defences) '. [13] For Kleinians, there were at the core of 'the manic defences...a triad of feelings - control, triumph and contempt'.[14]


Subsequently, exploring what he called "narcissistic omnipotent object relations", 'Herbert Rosenfeld examines the role of omnipotence, introjective and projective identification, and envy as defences against acknowledging separation between the ego and the object...narcissistic'.[15]

Object relations theory

In the wake of Klein, object relations theory, including particularly 'representatives of the American schools (Otto Kernberg, Heinz Kohut)...has allowed a better delineation of narcissistic defensive processes, based on an analysis of the mechanisms of denial, separation, projective identification, and pathological idealization'[16]

Kernberg especially emphasised the part of ' Splitting...the active process of keeping apart introjections and identifications of opposite quality. ..a fundamental cause of ego weakness'.[17] Kohut too stressed the fact in narcissism 'vertical splits are between self-structures (among others) - "I am grand" and "I an wretched" - with very little communication between them'.[18]

Neville Symington however placed greater weight on the way ' a person dominated by narcissistic currents...survives through being able to sense the emotional tone of the other...wearing the cloaks of others';[19] while for Spotnitz the key element is that the narcissist 'turns these feelings inward and begins to attack the self. This is called the narcissistic defense '[20]

Positive defenses

Kernberg 'would also interpret and clarify the positive aspects of the narcissistic defenses'.[21] Kohut too stressed that in 'archaic narcissism...these positions constitute necessary and healthy maturational steps'.[22]

Others however would maintain that 'it is a mistake to split narcissism into positive and negative'. [23]

21st century

The twenty-first century has seen a distinction drawn between 'cerebral narcissists - people who build up their sense of magnificence out of an innate feeling of intellectual superiority' - and 'somatic narcissists - narcissists who are obsessed with the body'.[24]

Defence sequences

The narcissist typically runs through a sequence of defenses to discharge painful feelings until he or she finds one that works:[25][26]

  1. unconscious repression
  2. conscious denial
  3. distortion (including exaggeration and minimization) and lies
  4. projection (blaming somebody else)
  5. enlisting the help of one or more of his or her codependent friends who will support his or her distorted view.

A narcissistic set

To these might be added 'idealization of the love object, paranoid projection, [&] counter investment in the external world'.[16]

Literary parallels

  • Sir Philip Sidney is said to have seen 'Poetry as narcissistic defense'[27] in itself.
  • 'Sartre's "heroes"...detached, coldly aloof,' have been viewed as each representing a figure becoming 'a primitive narcissist who "saves" his self by petrifying it'.[28]

See also

  • W. R. D. Fairbairn
  • Narcissistic supply
  • Narcissistic withdrawal
  • True self and false self


  1. ↑ Jon A. Shaw, Sexual Aggression (1999) p. 28-9
  2. ↑ Ken Wilbur et al, Transformations of Consciousness (1986) p. 150
  3. ↑ P. D. Barry/S. Farmer, Mental Health and Mental Illness (2002) p. 175
  4. ↑ Lubit, R. (2002). The long-term organizational impact of destructively narcissistic managers. Academy of Management Executive, 16(1), 127-138.
  5. ↑ Elsa Schmid-Kitsikis, "Narcissistic Defenses"
  6. ↑ Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (PFL 11) p. 83
  7. ↑ Freud, Metapsychology p. 258
  8. ↑ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 147
  9. ↑ Fenichel, p. 148
  10. ↑ Fenichel, p. 510
  11. ↑ Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (Oxford 1997) p. 111
  12. ↑ Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (London 1997) p. 21-2
  13. ↑ James S. Grotstein, "Foreword", Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 1993) p. xii
  14. ↑ Hanna Segal, Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein (London 1964) p. 70
  15. ↑ Jean-Michel Quinodoz, The Taming of Solitude (2004) p. 168
  16. 16.016.1Schmid-Kitsikis
  17. ↑ Otto F. Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (London 1990) p. 29
  18. ↑ Kohut, quoted in Josephine Klein, Our Need for Others (London 1994) p. 222
  19. ↑ Symington, p. 52 and p. 88
  20. ↑ James G. Fennessy, "The Narcissistic Defense"
  21. ↑ Elsa Ronningstam, Disorders of Narcissism (1997) p. 128
  22. ↑ Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (Madison 1971) p. 215
  23. ↑ Symington, p. 113
  24. ↑ Simon Crompton, All about Me (London 2007) p. 28-9
  25. Millon, Theodore; Carrie M. Millon, Seth Grossman, Sarah Meagher, Rowena Ramnath (2004). Personality Disorders in Modern Life, John Wiley and Sons.
  26. ↑ Thomas D Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)
  27. ↑ Jonathan Goldberg, Voice Terminal Echo (1986) p. 47
  28. ↑ J. A. Kotarba/A. Fontana, The Existential Self in Society (1987) p. 85

Further reading

  • Adamson, J./Clark, H. A., Scenes of Shame (1999)
  • Federn, Paul, "Narcissism in the structure of the ego" International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1928) 9, 401-419.
  • Green, André, Life narcissism, death narcissism (Andrew Weller, Trans.) London and New York: Free Association Books (1983).
  • Grunberger, Béla. (1971) Narcissism: Psychoanalytic essays (Joyce S. Diamanti, Trans., foreword by Marion M. Oliner). New York: International Universities Press.
  • Tausk, Viktor. (1933) "On the origin of the "influencing machine" in schizophrenia" In Robert Fliess (Ed.), The psycho-analytic reader. New York: International Universities Press. (Original work published 1919)
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.

About the defense mechanisms of a narcissistically injured person | Blog

Inna Kirilyuk, Twitter Facebook

We continue to publish graduation papers of our colleagues who successfully completed training in the training program "Fundamentals of Analytical Counseling and Jungian Therapy" in 2018. Today we will get acquainted with the work of Alena Shevtsova on the topic:

In my work, I would like to reveal the topic of defense mechanisms of a narcissistically injured person. All of us have some vulnerability about who we are and how valuable we feel. We begin to be proud of ourselves when we are approved from outside, and vice versa, we oppress and blame ourselves when we are not approved.

I would like to recall the myth of Narcissus, and I will give a partial interpretation of Ovid, which Nathan Schwartz-Salant described in his book.

Ovid begins his story like this: Cephis, the river god, takes the nymph Liriope into his "winding river bed": and "lured into the water, she was taken by force, this lovely nymph." She subsequently gave birth to Narcissus, a child "worthy of love". Liriope asks the soothsayer Tiresias if the child will live long. “Yes, if he does not recognize himself,” he replied. At 16, Narcissus inspires passionate love in young girls and boys, "but a cold heart dwells in this tender body" - Narcissus is not able to love! The nymph Echo falls in love with him, who pursues and lures him, but cannot express her love. Somehow, Narcissus got lost and fell behind his companions, but Echo decided to get closer to him. He calls his friends: "Come here." Echo thinks that these words are addressed to her and responds by repeating his words, wants to hug him, but repels her with contempt, saying: “No, I'd rather die than lie down with you! Echo, wounded by these words, hides in the forest, unable to free herself from love. She withered from grief, her voice remains an Echo, and her bones turned into stones, and she lives in the mountains, forests, meadows, echoing. Then the goddess Nemesis curses the daffodil. He is condemned to love, but he will never possess the one he loves. He is doomed to love his own image reflected in the water, never being able to touch it.

Birth of Narcissus precedes conjunction: Cephis forcibly took possession of Liriope. From a structural point of view, it points to problems related to the coniunctio archetype - the union of opposites. Such a connection was prevented by great fear (“Hands off! I don’t need your hugs! I would rather die than lie with you!” - a beautiful image of the attitude of the narcissistic personality), so the healing therapeutic process mainly focuses on the formation of unity in the transference-countertransference and on the ability to work with him. [3]

In psychoanalysis (Kohut, Grünberger) narcissism is considered a factor related to the self, and at the same time, according to the Freudians, it has both a positive and a negative effect on the individual.

Since the beginning of detailed investigations, the symptoms of the narcissistic personality have been characterized; anxiety, depression and paranoid tendencies, but the main complaints were still considered to be their lack of sense of their own identity and low self-esteem. When dealing with such disorders, we are faced with a violation of the development of the relationship between the ego and the self. There used to be a belief that narcissistic people were incurable because of their narcissistic barrier, which became a defense and served as the main obstacle for the patient to establish any emotional relationship with the analyst. But later it was found that patients with narcissistic disorder develop very strong transferences to analysts, which have a powerful effect in causing countertransference reactions.

In his book, K. Asper writes that a narcissistically injured person experiences himself as empty, empty and lifeless. He is limited in experiencing the sense of intensity of life that can give a positive animus/anima configuration. In a narcissistic personality, the animus and anima, as a reflection of images that were significant to him in childhood, invade his autonomy and prevent him from enjoying life.

In childhood, the child was not allowed to complain, to express his feelings when it was difficult for him, or when, in the event of the loss of a loved one, he did not have the opportunity for a new relationship. If a child was emotionally rejected, often in such circumstances he was forced to build a survival strategy. In this process, he introjects the patriarchal demands of duty too early, which feeds the negative side of the Animus. In the future, such a child tries to help himself by gaining recognition from others, trying to meet the expectations of others and please. At the same time, he develops a solid facade, a mask or "persona". This masked behavior is accompanied by the ego trying to protect itself from the past painful experience, and at the same time from repeating such an experience in the present. Protection from childhood pain leads to amnesia and forgetfulness of one's childhood. As a result, a narcissistically injured person is deprived of the opportunity to experience their true feelings. He is constantly looking for paradise, the pursuit of greatness and omnipotence, although it can become dangerous for such a fragile ego. As long as the ego can buy admiration for itself through its survival strategies, everything is fine, but when expectations are shattered, the slightest resentment is perceived as anger, anxiety, hatred, and depression. His self-esteem is not stable and natural, it fluctuates between megalomania and depression, which leads the narcissistic person to a battle for balance, as E. Neumann says, he is alienated from the stable axis of the ego self. [2]

K. Asper writes: “Because the developing child does not receive maternal care to help him grow. The self turns out to be unable to actualize its own nature, while it remains in a latent state, in the shadows and forms a rigid ego, cutting itself off from early painful experiences. The connection with the original child is severed and the ego of the narcissistic person becomes prone to fragmentation and vulnerability, the influx of the unconscious from the realm of the shadow.

Main features characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Demonstration of autonomy
  • Weak capacity for empathy
  • Intolerance of criticism
  • Violation of the masculine and feminine functioning of the psyche
  • Impervious to surroundings
  • Grandiosity, depression
  • Lack of feelings
  • Incommensurable anger, modesty
  • Distorted perception

In an essay on narcissism, Freud uses the term narcissism to describe the stage of psychological development between autoeroticism and object love. This is primary narcissism, the normal stage of object love. It is characterized by the fact that autoerotic sexual impulses that have not yet been connected with each other are combined into a single whole. They fill the self of a person, sometimes called "ego" by Freud, making it the very first object of love. Further development of the libido leads through the homosexual choice of the object to heterosexuality. However, not all of the libido is transferred to the object, some of it is retained as a narcissistic cathexis of the person's own self.

Secondary narcissism arises through the reversal of the narcissistic libido to the point of early fixation, and according to Freud is the cause of mental illness. Thus, a relapse into infantile autoeroticism leads to schizophrenia. In the case of paranoia, the narcissistic libido released as a result of the regression leads to the inflation of the ego and the cathexis of the self as the only object of love. [3]

Discussions about narcissism are in the spotlight today thanks to the work of Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg. Kernberg suggested that the most obvious grandiose patients have either an innate strong drive of aggression, or a constitutionally determined insufficient capacity to tolerate aggressive impulses. Such a feature may, to some extent, explain the fact that narcissistic people tend to avoid their own drives and desires for a long time, they may be afraid of their power. The essence of the opposite positions of Kohut and Kernberg is that Kohut considered pathological narcissism from the point of view of development (the patient's maturation proceeded normally and met with some difficulties in resolving the normal needs of idealization of deidealization). Kernberg, on the other hand, understood this in terms of structure (something went wrong very early in allowing the individual to surround himself with primitive defenses that differ from the norm in quality rather than in degree). The concept of Kohut's narcissistic personality can be illustrated by the image of a plant whose growth was stunted as a result of a lack of watering and lighting at critical times. Narcissus Kernberg can be represented as a plant mutated into a hybrid. [1

Self-psychologists thus recommend a benevolent acceptance of idealization or devaluation and unflinching empathy with the patient's experience. Kernberg advocates a persistent but tactful confrontation with grandiosity, appropriated or projected, and an interpretation of defenses against addiction and greed. A very important contribution of Kohut to the technique was his attention to the consequences of the therapist admitting his own mistakes, when admitting one does not become overly self-critical. [1

The narcissistic personality tends to constantly lack the mirror image that comes from parental envy. If the parents' own identity is insufficient, they become sensitive to how the child loves them. Often the child feels that he has something special that his parents need, and it should manifest itself in such a way as to mirror the parents. Children begin to emotionally "save" their parents, mirroring them "as good. " Here, when working, you have to deal with an underlying feeling of envy and jealousy towards your children, who develop and develop an identity that their parents do not have.

It is from the feeling of envy and hatred of the surrounding people, and first of all the parents, that the narcissistic personality builds his defenses.

Narcissistic people can use a whole range of defenses, but most fundamentally they depend on idealization and devaluation. These defenses are complementary in the sense that when idealizing one's own self, the meaning and role of other people is devalued, and vice versa. Kohut began to use the term grandiose self to convey a sense of greatness and superiority, which characterizes one of the pluses of the inner world of a narcissistic personality. This grandiosity can be felt internally or projected.

There is a constant ranking process that narcissistic personalities use when dealing with any problem they face: which doctor is the best? Which school is the best? Where are the most stringent training requirements? Real advantages and disadvantages may not be taken into account due to prestige preoccupations. A related defensive position into which people become narcissistically motivated is thought to be perfectionism. Such patients believe that the main therapeutic effect is self-improvement, and not understanding oneself in order to find more effective ways to deal with their own needs. The demand for perfection is expressed in constant criticism of oneself or others, as well as in the inability to take pleasure in all the duality of human existence. Some patients have lifelong patterns of idealizing someone, then toppling that person off their pedestal when imperfections are revealed. The perfectionist solution to the narcissistic dilemma is essentially self-destructive, unattainable ideals are created to compensate for defects in the self. These defects seem so despicable that no success can hide them anyway, and besides, no one can be perfect, so the whole strategy fails, and depreciated — I appears again.

The clinical literature consistently emphasizes shame and envy as the main emotions associated with the narcissistic personality organization. The subjective experience of narcissistic people is imbued with a sense of shame and the fear of feeling it. Shame is the feeling that you are seen as bad and wrong, the observer is outside your own Self. [1]

Nancy McWilliams in her writings draws attention to the fact that the vulnerability of the narcissistic personality to envy is a related phenomenon. If I am inwardly convinced that I have some shortcomings and my inadequacy can always be exposed, I begin to envy those who seem content or have those virtues that, in my opinion, could contribute to my deprivation. Such people tend to judge themselves and others. If I feel a lack of something and it seems to me that you have it, I can try to destroy what you have by expressing regret, contempt or criticism. Narcissistic people need self-objects, a term that reflects the fact that individuals who play this role function both as objects outside their own self and as part of their own outlined self. By helping to modulate self-esteem, they add to or replace what most of us is an internal function. We all have self-objects and need them. If we lose them, we feel smaller, as if some vital part of us has died. Reality requires us that others be something more than a self-object to us, we must treat them for who they are and what they need, and not just for what they do for us. Consequently, narcissistic people send conflicting messages to their family and loved ones: their need for others is great, but their love is superficial. [1

Narcissistic patients have strong reactions to the therapist. They can devalue or idealize, and this phenomenon is characterized by such countertransferences as boredom, drowsiness, the feeling that nothing is happening in therapy.

The goal of transforming the problem of narcissistic self-alienation is to develop a positive and loving relationship with oneself and a tolerant attitude towards others. A narcissistically traumatized person is constantly looking for a mother and a maternal relationship in order to strengthen his right to live and develop, thus he is in search of the implementation of the reflection and evaluation model that was present in his early relationship with his mother.

Instructions for use

In his book Psychoanalytic Diagnostics, N. McWilliams says that an important condition for working with narcissistic pathology is patience. The therapist has to endure countertransference reactions of boredom, drowsiness, and demoralization. This attitude involves acceptance of human imperfection, which makes therapy work a tedious task. It is desirable for the therapist to embody a nonjudgmental realistic attitude towards the patient's fragility. Attempting to help narcissistic patients also requires constant attention to the patient's latent self state. Many patients experience intense shame when confronted with what they perceive as criticism. Therefore, the therapist must be able to feel and accept pain in order to perform sensitive interventions. An alliance with a narcissistic patient is always fragile, as they cannot stand a situation where their self-esteem is reduced. It is also of great importance to work through shame and guilt, strengthening the ego in therapy. It is difficult for such patients to recognize their own role in life's failures, narcissists run from their mistakes and hide from those who can detect them. At the same time, the therapist should not stimulate strong shame, because the patient may abruptly stop treatment or have secrets from the therapist.

With a strong ego, the person can increasingly resist the trauma and become aware of his pain, which is the other side of depression, so it is important that the analysand goes through it and becomes aware of all emotional or physical abandonment in the past. By establishing contact with your true feelings, which is a prerequisite for coming out of the shadow and revealing its true nature, becoming a sense of inner support, cooperation with yourself and the opportunity to really begin to live your own life here and now. The therapist should also provide empathic understanding to help their clients see their perspective and integrate it.

A person who has gone through a similar path is transformed to an ever greater extent able to get away from self-alienation, become more joyful, find his own way, become more tolerant and able to live with his feelings.

I turned to the work of Nathan Schwartz - Salant. If the analyst is in good contact with his self as an inner directed center, if he is open enough to listen to his unconscious wisdom which tells him when to apply interpretations and when not, then therapy will proceed as if the analyst had a conscious attitude towards specific form of steady transfer. Narcissism is the problem of our time, for it is in the center of attention directed at the image of a new self that is in the process of transition. Therefore, Jung was actually working on the topic of narcissism long before it became widespread in the clinical world. To be sure, modern psychoanalysts have made valuable contributions, especially their study of transference-countertransference processes and issues related to envy, rage, and exhibitionism, but the acceptance of the mythological view enriches them greatly.

The goal of transforming the problem of narcissistic self-alienation is to develop a positive and loving relationship with oneself and a tolerant attitude towards others. A narcissistically traumatized person is constantly looking for a mother and a maternal relationship in order to strengthen his right to live and develop, thus he is in search of the implementation of the reflection and evaluation model that was present in his early relationship with his mother. [1]

Practical part

As an example of a narcissistic personality, I will give a description of one of the main characters in Ingmar Bergman's film Autumn Sonata, Charlotte, the mother of two daughters, Eva and Helena.

Charlotte's mother is a successful pianist, a flamboyant woman with pronounced narcissistic traits. She made a brilliant musical career, took place professionally, but at home she prefers to shine and communicate superficially. Graceful, elegant and cold, like a snow queen, incapable of feelings. Charlotte is focused solely on herself: having buried her lover, she is sad only about what she has lost, and that mourning does not suit her. He skillfully expresses any range of feelings, from sorrow to joy, and in a second switches to his appearance, transfers any topic to himself. Somehow, Charlotte feels that she brings grief to loved ones, but she cannot realize this, and she remains on the surface of incomprehensible anxiety.

Her main role, her vocation, her mission is to please! Nature endowed her with feminine charm, beautiful features and musical abilities. In the professional field, her narcissistic ego was able to reveal itself to the fullest. Recognition, adoration is a drug for which Eva's mother will do anything. Even parting with her children, for whom she has always been someone insanely beautiful, desirable and absolutely inaccessible.

Daughter Eva - devastated by her own mother, a deeply unhappy person who has never been able to grow up. All her life she was looking for motherly love, all her life she received only coldness and humiliation. She is torn between a painful feeling of love for her mother and a sizzling hatred for her, combined with a thirst for revenge. It is not clear what she wants to achieve more with this invitation: to improve relations with her mother or finally erase all the accumulated pain. Eva lives in illusions, she thinks that her dead son is still alive and is invisibly with her. From the same series, a naive belief that her mother will change, ask for forgiveness, realize that she was wrong, and finally love her.

The piano playing scene is a perfect illustration of narcissistic behavior. It is no coincidence that one of the most profound and tragic preludes of Chopin was chosen. Each of the women is immersed in the work in her own way, we hear the alternate performance of an introvert and an extrovert. The mother insists that her daughter play the piano, and then shows disregard for her daughter's playing, and immediately performs the same piece, only better. Probably every daughter of a narcissistic mother has experienced some kind of competition in relationships. Such mothers choose as a field of competition what they are obviously stronger in, and enjoy the victory over their own child, no matter if he is five years old or fifty.

In a senseless race for unattainable maternal splendor, trying to become at least a little like her, Eva began to hate herself. Her female fate was unhappy. Eva married without intimacy. Not considering herself worthy of love, she reproaches her husband for not being sincere in expressing feelings. Having had an abortion at a young age from a beloved man, destroying her relationship at the insistence of her mother, she put an end to personal feelings. But Eva cannot mourn her failed love, because she cannot express her feelings. She doesn't know at all where her feelings begin and where other people's needs end. She doesn't know who she is at all. Despite everything, Eva tries to establish contact with her. At the moment when the daughter pours out her most intimate things to her mother, when the clash of souls is inevitable, Eva is faced with a chilling emptiness, with the truth of life: her mother, by her nature, is unable to understand her tragedy, she sees nothing but herself.

Analyzing her mother, Eva comes to a terrible conclusion: “People like you are dangerous to others. You must be isolated so that you cannot harm anyone. .. Mother and daughter. What a terrible interweaving of love and hatred, evil and good, chaos and creation. And everything that happens is programmed by nature. The vices of the mother are inherited by the daughter. The mother has failed, the daughter will pay the price. The misfortune of the mother will be the misfortune of the daughter. It's like an umbilical cord that has not been cut, not torn. Mom, is it really? Is my grief your triumph?

In addition to the victims of the narcissistic woman, the deep suffering of the mother, the inner tragedy of the narcissist, is also shown. Life among faceless objects, lack of feelings, existence instead of life. “It’s as if I wasn’t born… I don’t remember anyone’s faces… Sometimes I try to remember my own mother — in vain, it doesn’t work out… A sense of reality is an invaluable, rare talent. Most of humanity does not have it, fortunately." A mother who behaves like a petulant little child, like her own daughter's daughter. A woman who is not destined to truly be born and give birth is not given to understand the nature of being, because her nature is distorted and broken at its very core. All that remains for her is to delight and destroy. She cannot love.

Everyone is left alone with his nature, unhappy, broken women. One is incapable of loving by nature, the other is not knowing love, and therefore unable to express and experience it. The chain of unfortunate people is interrupted by two male characters - Eva's dead child and her priest husband. One did not give himself a chance to become an unloved son, the second found peace in a higher power, and no longer waits for reciprocal human love.


  1. McWilliams N. Psychoanalytic diagnostics: Understanding the structure of personality in the clinical process / Per. English - M .: Independent firm "Class", 2007. - 408 p.
  2. Asper K. Psychology of the narcissistic personality. Inner child and self-esteem. 2nd ed. - M .: "Dobrosvet", "Publishing house" KDU ", 2015. - 366 p.
  3. Schwartz-Salant N. Narcissism and personality transformation / Translated from English. V. Mershavki. - M .: Independent firm "Class", 2017. - 296 p.
  4. Jung K. Yu. Collected works. Psychology of the unconscious / Per. with him. - M .: "Canon" ROOI "Rehabilitation", 2016. - 320 p.
  5. Kalshed D. The inner world of trauma: Archetypal defenses of the personal spirit / - M .: Kogito-Center, 2015. - 398 s.

Graduation papers of students

Related posts

Calm me, storm. Formation of psychological defenses in injuries - June 28,

Sleeping beauty or prickly rose - June 15,

Improving the mental state with the help of active imagination and work with dreams - June 4, 9000

Complex of the dead mother: death and revival and revival libido - May 26

Frida is the heroine's journey. Images of traumatized femininity in the work of Frida Kahlo - May 6

Narcissists: who they are, signs of narcissism, rules of behavior

  1. Who is
  2. How to recognize
  3. Men and women
  4. Types
  5. Treatment
  6. How to communicate
  7. How to leave

Who is a narcissist?

Advertising on RBC www.

Narcissism is a feature of the psyche in which a person perceives himself as a unique individual, considers himself better than others, which is not always true. In fact, these traits are present in the character of many people. In a healthy personality, they result in ambition and a desire to please. But under a certain scenario, laid down in childhood, such behavior can turn into a pathology, which is often accompanied by other diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder and depression.

Contrary to popular belief, people with narcissistic personality disorder do not like themselves very much. Rather, they admire their grandiose projection, which allows them to close gaps in their own self-esteem. Such protection allows narcissists to avoid deep feelings and self-doubt. A person with this disorder does not tolerate minimal criticism, he perceives remarks as a personal insult and is able to throw a tantrum if someone refuses to admire him. You can check how narcissistic traits are characteristic of you or your partner using the NPI questionnaire [1]. The more positive answers a person gives to statements from the list compiled by American psychologists and researchers Robert Raskin and Howard Terry, the more narcissistic features appear in him. Meeting people with a true personality disorder is not easy. According to various sources, their number in society varies from 1 to 6%.

How to recognize a narcissist?

According to the American psychiatrists' handbook "Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" [2], there are nine signs of narcissistic personality disorder. If at least five of these are present, a doctor may suspect a disorder. Usually such a person:

  1. Has an inflated sense of self-importance. He often exaggerates his achievements and talents. Expects people to admire his actions, even if they were minor. If the narcissist organized the cleaning of the yard, then at least the district newspaper should write about it.
  2. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, or ideal love. To each new partner, the narcissist can say that he is the love of his life or wait for him to fulfill his fantasies. The beginning of such a relationship is a magical, but short period. In work, the narcissist, according to him, is a genius. If he has not been able to achieve great results, he is simply sure that success lies ahead of him, even if it is time for him to retire.
  3. Believes that he is not like others and has few equals. Therefore, the environment must match. The narcissist chooses “special” people as friends and partners, for example, with high social status or model appearance. Thus, he seems to reflect himself through them, because his problems are unique and can only be understood by special people. Narcissists like to be associated with big brands, whether it be in their work projects or clothing choices.
  4. Requires constant attention, recognition and admiration, even if you just took out the trash or cooked dinner.
  5. Absolutely sure that everyone owes him. Expectations for other people are usually very high. Close people are obliged to fulfill the requests of the narcissist at the first call.
  6. Uses other people to achieve his own goals. For him, it goes without saying. The narcissist is not used to sincerely thanking for services and does it only within the framework of the accepted ethical norm.
  7. It is difficult for him to experience empathy. Such people are not able to draw a parallel between their feelings and the feelings of others. Therefore, the narcissist does not even think about when he hurts someone. Very often, this behavior is mistaken for abuse by partners of narcissists. In fact, he may be concerned with how to hide the shame of his failure and not lose his greatness.
  8. Often jealous of others and believes that others envy him. In the latter case, it is by this circumstance that the narcissist explains the criticism of others in his address.
  9. Arrogant towards other people. Such a person absolutely sincerely believes that he is better than others, and other people's shortcomings are an excellent reason to assert himself.

To decide to end a relationship with a narcissist, write down the reasons for breaking up and keep the list with you

© Unsplash

Men and women are narcissists disorder in one form or another, men are more likely to be affected by this disorder than women. The data were collected over a period of 30 years, and the percentage ratio between the sexes did not change much during this time [3].

In doing so, the researchers noted two important points. First, male narcissists were more likely than females to exploit others and believe they were entitled to certain privileges. Secondly, men were more likely to seek power. Scientists explain this by the fact that until recently, leadership qualities did not meet the criteria for femininity. According to one of the authors of the study, Emily Griyalva, girls are more often criticized for aggressiveness and authoritarianism. Thus, society unconsciously suppressed manifestations of narcissistic behavior [4].

As regards vanity and striving for a vivid self-presentation, in this respect there was no significant difference between men and women.

Types of narcissists and how they are formed

There are different approaches to the formation of narcissism, including studies that allow for genetic influence, but this is not a decisive factor in the formation of personality.

In 1914, Sigmund Freud stated that children somehow go through a stage of primary narcissism. He believed that this was an intermediate stage of growing up, but later he singled out other forms of narcissism, to a greater extent associated with mental disorders.

Neuro-Freudian Karen Horney argued that the development of such character traits may be due to the fact that parents in various ways pushed the child to create psychological protection. For example, they could delegate the embodiment of their ambitions or rejected the real manifestations of the child, instilling a sense of inferiority.

The contribution of parental figures to the formation of narcissistic disorder is also noted by psychotherapist and researcher Otto Kernberg. He compares narcissism with a false prop that a person erects in order to receive from others the admiration and confidence that he did not receive from his parents in childhood and cannot give himself in adulthood [5].

In the book of psychologist Elinor Greenberg "Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: the pursuit of Love Admiration and Safety" [6], the author divides narcissists into three types:

  1. Open, or grandiose. Embodied stereotype. A bright character illustrating this feature of development and behavior. His whole being screams, "Look at me." This childish behavior indicates that a person is stuck at an age when adults pay a lot of attention to the child, praise him excessively, suggest that he is special, forgetting to teach him empathy.
  2. Hidden or depressive. Such people can grow up in families where one of the relatives, including mother or father, was a narcissist. At the same time, there was a high level of competition for love and attention. On the one hand, children copied the behavior model of narcissistic parents, on the other hand, such a child formed protective mechanisms, since an adult narcissist would certainly assert himself at his expense. Growing up, such people may not openly say that they are special. They would rather choose a person, a book, an object and exalt their virtues. Thus, the narcissist puts them on a par with himself. In personal relationships, such people do not like direct conflicts. Their weapon is passive aggression. A favorite technique is to promise and not deliver, and then blame the other person for everything. They tend to be insecure, and ambivalent behavior often leads them to depression.
  3. Perverse or toxic. Such people go even further. They love not only admiration, but also submission. Narcissists of this type love to wreak havoc around themselves, the same that reigned in their childhood in relationships with their parents. These narcissists often give their partners an emotional rollercoaster of humiliation and praise. They take pleasure in destroying other people's careers, destroying people morally and spiritually.

Mixed representatives of these types also exist.

Treatment for narcissism

Most often, narcissists don't even suspect that something is wrong with them, because they don't tend to blame themselves for anything. So if such people were seen by a specialist, then the reason for this could be related problems: depression, bipolar disorder, or excessive alcohol consumption. There is no cure for narcissism yet. Psychotherapy has a positive effect on such patients. Properly structured classes can help a person establish relationships with loved ones, learn to withstand criticism, stop despising themselves and others, set realistic goals and achieve them, and not dream of sky-high heights [7].

Although there is no cure for narcissism yet, psychotherapy has a positive effect

© Thiago Matos / Pexels

How to communicate with a narcissist?

Building an even relationship with a narcissist is not always easy. Some prefer to just cut them off. But what if this is not possible? Let's say that person is a family member or ex-husband/wife with whom you have children in common.

  • The first thing psychologists advise is to try to detach yourself emotionally. Ignore toxic statements and manipulations. It is useless to expect sudden changes in behavior from such people. According to research, narcissists do not tend to learn from their own mistakes simply because they are sure they did not make them [8].
  • Your personal boundaries are your guard against the actions of a narcissist. “This won’t happen to me anymore”, “I won’t fall for these manipulations” - phrases that will help to avoid an unpleasant conversation or intrusive requests of a narcissist. You can't wait for a response.
  • The shortest answers, conditionally "yes" and "no", are your main allies in a dialogue with such a person if he began to resort to manipulation. By minimizing communication, you give him much less reason to hook on to some phrase and launch an attack.
  • Stick to the topic of conversation and don't get sidetracked. Perhaps your counterpart will try to knock you out of the saddle with accusations or get personal. In this case, the phrase “We are going off topic” will help bring the discussion back on track.
  • Compliments. If you really need to get something out of a narcissist, don't be stingy with praise. Most likely, he will even enjoy fulfilling your request. Yes, this is manipulation, but who said that only a narcissist can use this technique?

How to get away from a narcissist

The end of a relationship is never easy. With a narcissist, breaking up can be doubly difficult. For him, the fact that he was abandoned is an intolerable insult. That is why he will try by hook or by crook to bring the partner back. During this period, he will become sensitive and gentle, will swear eternal love and will do this until his victim loses his vigilance. Often, therefore, relationships with a narcissist develop into a cycle of breaks and reunions. Nevertheless, if you decide to put an end to your communication, psychologists recommend the following:

  • Write down the reasons why you want to leave. It's best to keep this list around in case the narcissist decides to drag you back into the relationship by talking about eternal love.
  • Give up illusions. It is difficult for such people to change, especially without the help of a specialist. Do you have time to wait until he finally learns to show empathy and respect?
  • Disconnect all contacts. Ask a friend to pick up your belongings from the narcissist. Block this person in all phones and messengers. If you have children in common, at first ask someone close to you to be with you at general meetings.
  • Let go of your feelings. Breaking up, even with a toxic person, is always hard. Give yourself time to get over this situation. Just don't expect the narcissist to suffer in return. Most likely, during this period, he will try to restore his shattered ego and will choose not the most pleasant ways for this: either he will tell everyone what a bad person you are, or seek solace in the arms of someone else.

There are nine signs of narcissism, but five signs can already be suspected of it

© Martino Pietropoli / Unsplash

Kristina Andreyuk, clinical psychologist, researcher. Research interests: mentalization, manipulative behavior, personality disorders

In addition to family relationships, external factors can also enhance narcissistic traits. Media and social networks broadcast often unattainable ideals, and self-improvement services are imposed by advertising. All this can affect the psyche.

With "normal narcissism" people try to please others, to achieve success in work, which helps them to adapt in society. However, in the case of pathology, a person's ideas about themselves are distorted. In this case, the emphasis is on the grandiosity of his figure. He experiences difficulties in forming adequate ideas about other people, abuses manipulations, grossly violates the boundaries of the interlocutor and ignores his comfort. Narcissistic features can manifest themselves in pathological perfectionism, hypochondria, constant attempts to correct their "flaws", including, for example, transforming one's appearance as the most noticeable attribute of self-presentation for others.

On the surface, narcissists give the impression of being rather pleasant people. According to research, many socially active narcissists have charisma, know how to hold an audience, are not afraid to express themselves, appear self-confident, and have high claims regarding academic and professional achievements. These qualities often show up in job interviews and help narcissists get into leadership positions. However, such bosses may use too subjective criteria when evaluating employees, focusing not on their professional achievements, but on the degree of admiration, devotion, and the absence of doubts about the correctness of the leader's decisions.

Close relationships are difficult for narcissists. In partners and friends, they are primarily looking for confirmation of their exclusivity, superiority (which reinforces vulnerable self-esteem). Often, such people confuse the attachment that accompanies healthy partnerships and collaborations with the addiction that can shackle and inspire fear. The demands of constant adoration and recognition of their grandiosity, which the narcissist often implements in the form of excessive control over the thoughts and feelings of a partner, in most cases, sooner or later are not fully satisfied, which leads to conflicts and increased manipulative behavior.

If you have found any manifestations of narcissistic traits in yourself and want to change them, then it will be useful for you to develop the skills of self-reflection, mentalization (understanding mental states), work on the development of emotional intelligence, empathy (for example, discuss with friends the films you have watched, read books in terms of understanding the inner world of the characters, their motivation, etc.

Learn more